Another highlight of the morning at D.I.C.E. in Las Vegas was Newsweek's N'Gai Croal sitting down with Sony exec Phil Harrison for an uncensored Q&A session.
A multitude of subjects were covered in the informal session, and Gamasutra will be presenting highlights of the most interesting questions alongside Harrison's answers.
One particularly interesting aside is that, during the Q&A, when asked what Harrison was playing in terms of games on his PSP, he commented: "The next version of LocoRoco
which... I can't really talk about because we haven't announced it." Further details were not forthcoming.
In addition, during the course of his Q&A, the Sony VP revealed Super Rub A Dub
, a slightly unlikely PlayStation 3 E-Distribution game which is played entirely using the SixAxis controller's tilt function, and involves manipulating ducks in a bathtub, previously a favorite technical demo for both the PlayStation 3 and other Sony hardware.
Q: "When an external developer approaches you with a game, what are the three most important things you look for?"
Harrison commented that Sony is looking for "the same things everyone is looking for, that spark of creativity and innovation." That, of course, needs to be backed up with technical skill, management, commercial viability. Normally, Sony will go through 2-3 review processes before they even get to a publishing contract.
Q: "Has this [process] changed with downloadable content?"
Harrison: "I think the intention is the same, but clearly the risk profile for the PlayStation Network is much smaller than a Blu-ray disc title, that may have a budget of double-digit millions. We’re seeing more of the interesting innovation at PlayStation Network, and we’re able to take a much bigger risk."
Q: "In North America the PlayStation 3 is $500 to $600, eventually it’s going to come down in price. What’s in development that will reach out to casual gamers to convince them?"
Harrison commented specifically: “Plenty. I think what you’ve seen on PlayStation and PlayStation 2, you’ve seen content offerings that have appealed to different audiences.” He added: “We are developing some things that we think are going to stimulate the usage of PlayStation 3 beyond hardcore gamers and into wider audiences.”
The Sony VP also noted: “Something we’ve done successfully in Europe is something we’ve coined ‘social gaming.’ We’ve had great success with SingStar
, which combined is over a $500 million category - Singstar
has sold 7 million units.”
Harrison then demonstrated SingStar
on the PlayStation 3, noting: “We’ve taken it online. We have this concept of the SingStore where you can buy songs from the PlayStation network."
Q: "Perhaps Sony’s third-party relations have been less effective than when you were the point person. How much intel do you have on developer support, and how does Sony plan to improve this?"
Harrison started by admitting: "There’s no point in me being defensive. If that’s what people are saying, there has to be an element of truth in it." He went on to comment that "we can always do a better job", but noted of particular apparent complaints that some key technical documents and information originate in Japan and do not always flow easily to other parts of the world: "Most of the key components of PS3 were created in English speaking parts of the world."
Q: "During the previous generation, it was well known that the major distinction between PS2 and Xbox was that the integrated online experience of Xbox Live was far superior to what Sony was providing - can you comment about this generation?"
Harrison noted: "The launch of a platform like PS3 is not a fixed specification the day you buy the console", commenting that: "The chipset stays the same but what it does in software changes over time," addding, "We’ll continue to refine [the PlayStation 3 Network], not just for developer experience, but for consumers too."
He also added obliquely: "This year we’ll be adding some functionality to the PSP that will unify our approach", hinting at a more robust download service for Sony's portable that has been rumored for some time now.
Q: "Valve's Gabe Newell said [in a recent Game Informer interview] that the PS3 launch was a 'total disaster'. He isn’t the only developer who wanted me to ask this. Why wasn’t the launch postponed to say, spring, when many issues could have been resolved?"
Harrison started by asking: "By what measure is the launch of PS3 unsuccessful? We had people lined up in stores in three continents." However, he noted, "we can always sell more", and as for the company's plans, the European launch is "on track for March." The Sony VP particularly noted that "the boat with the first supply is on its way from China as we speak. I think it’s a fantastic achievement."
Q: "Late last year, you told MTV News regarding the PSP, 'Our achievement has been to deliver console-quality gaming in the palm of your hand. But that could also be considered a missed opportunity -- that we have yet to really deliver PSP games that speak with their own voice and stand for what the machine can do on its own.' With the PSP’s features, why is it taking developers so long to create unique experiences?"
The Sony exec was direct on this, commenting: "I don’t mean to belittle developers, but we’ve only managed to recreate PS2 in the palm in your hand." He continued, "I think we can go deeper, I think we can explore more features of the machine, connectivity, social aspects, media aspects, and integrate it into game design that is unique to that format. It’s not a missed opportunity so much as a future opportunity."